How you respond to your partner's good news may be more important to your relationship health than how you react to negative events, according to a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 91, No. 5). Those whose mates energetically cheered after positive events, such as a raise or promotion, later reported greater relationship satisfaction and were less likely to break up than those with less enthusiastic mates, notes lead study author Shelly Gable, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California Los Angeles.
Gable and her colleagues videotaped 79 couples taking turns discussing positive and negative events in their lives. Trained raters then coded their partners' responses as being constructive or destructive, and energetic or passive. Saying, "Are you sure you can handle all that responsibility?" after hearing about a girlfriend's promotion exemplified a destructive, energetic response. Passive, destructive responses included such moves as changing the subject. Energetic, constructive responses were characterized by saying such things, as "You really deserve it. You've been working hard for that promotion." Saying simply, "That's nice, dear," constituted a passive, constructive response.
At the videotaping and at an eight-week follow up, participants also completed measures of relationship satisfaction and their partners' characteristic response styles for positive and negative events.
The researchers found that participants whose partners tended to be energetically supportive of their achievements reported the highest levels of relationship satisfaction at the follow-up survey. What's more, positive-event support better predicted relationship satisfaction than compassionate responses to disappointing news.
"When you are talking about a negative event...the best your partner can do is bring you back to an average state-a not-upset state," Gable says. "Positive events offer a lot more opportunity for growth in a relationship because there is less on the line in terms of stress and self-esteem."